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Growing and Using Okra

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photo of okra flower and pod

There aren’t many vegetables that thrive in super hot weather, most will either wilt, burn up, or just stop flowering. But okra loves the heat, in fact, it needs consistent daytime temperatures above 85°F to fruit. If you live where the summers are hot, try growing okra. 

Okra is considered a super food with potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, folic acid, and calcium. It’s low in calories and has a high dietary fiber content. There are also studies to suggest that okra can help regulate blood sugar which makes it a good choice for everyone but especially those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. 

I realize that, like cilantro, people tend to either love or hate okra. But there are a lot of ways to use okra and not all of them will have the slimy feel that some do.

Okra flowers are beautiful and look like edible hibiscus flowers but yellow instead of pink. Okra is in the hibiscus family but instead of forming a calyx like hibiscus do, okra forms a pod after pollination. 

How to grow okra

Okra needs 55-65 frost free days to produce. I’ve found that okra plants will continue to produce fruit until the first frost, so if you have a long time between frost dates you can get a pretty great harvest from okra.

Okra loves the heat. This means that for areas, like mine, that experience 90 plus days of temperatures above 95°F, okra may be the only vegetable producing from mid-July until mid-September.

Okra can be direct sown after the average last frost date but will not germinate until the soil warms up. Okra seeds are usually the last seeds I worry about sowing because our season is so long.

However, if your season is short,  you can start the okra seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date and plant the transplants after the average last frost. Okra really doesn’t like having it’s roots disturbed so if you start them indoors use peat posts or a soil block builder which is what I use to start seeds.

Plant okra 8-10 inches apart. The plants can get pretty big -over 5′ tall and several feet across – so plant them 10-12″ apart. Okra plants like rich well drained soil as they are heavy feeders, but will tolerate poor soil.

The okra leaves can be kind of prickly, kind of like squash leaves. I usually wear a long sleeve shirt when I’m picking okra and squash or I just put some salve on my arms afterwards if they itch. This is one of the plant’s defense mechanisms. If you get contact dermatitis from picking okra (or squash) it doesn’t mean you’re allergic to okra.

There are some spineless okra varieties that have been developed over the years. If you have super sensitive skin or just don’t want prickly leaves, you might consider growing one of these. If you’re not sure how many okra plants to plant for your family I have some free printable worksheets to help you out. Just fill out the form below and they’ll be emailed to you.

How to Save Okra Seeds

It’s super easy to save okra seeds but you need to let the pods completely mature so I usually wait until the end of the season so as not to hinder production.

  • Let okra pods mature on the plant – they will get long and woody
  • Cut pods from plant
  • Let pods completely dry out
  • Open pods and remove seeds
  • Store seeds in envelop or baggie
  • Label baggie or envelop with variety and date
photo of ladybug on okra plant

Okra Pests and Problems

Okra plants are relatively pest and problem free. During the summer cool down okra can be susceptible to fusarium or verticillium wilt -both are soil-borne diseases that can severely damage or kill the plant. 

The only pest we seem to ever have on our okra is ants, fire ants, that like to drink the nectar from the flowers. Black ants will do the same thing, but we only seem to have fire ants here. For the most part, I try to just not get bit by ants when I pick but at the end of the season if there are fire ant mounds in the okra bed I’ll use this to get rid of them before I use the bed the next season.

Aphids also like okra but unless you have a huge aphid infestation, they won’t do much damage. Ladybugs like to hang out on our okra which helps keep the aphids in check. The balance of “good” and “bad” bugs in our garden is interesting and I try to just leave it alone if at all possible. The aphids are “bad” but they feed the ladybugs which are “good” so I don’t mind having a small aphid problem.

photo of okra in rope basket and tomatoes in baskets

Harvesting and Storing Okra

From the time the okra flower opens until the okra pod is ready to harvest is only 3-4 days. If you wait too long the okra will get big and woody. The plant’s goal is to produce mature, viable seeds so if you harvest often they plant will produce more than if you let the pods mature.

Use scissors or garden clippers to cut the okra pods from the plant and leave a bit of stem on the pod. If you try to pull the pods off the plant you’re going to have a mess (and you’re more likely to come in contact with the prickly leaves.)

Fresh okra doesn’t store well, but it will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Wash it and then put it in ziplock bag.

For long term storage, you can freeze, ferment, can, or dehydrate okra. I usually just freeze it. I chop and bread it, then lay it out on a baking sheet  lined with parchment paper to freeze. Once it’s frozen I put the breaded okra in a ziplock bag and put it back in the freezer.

photo of ladybug and ants on okra

Using Okra

The most common use of okra is to eat the pods, however, okra leaves can are a secondary edible part.

Okra can also be used medicinally. The leaves and pods are very mucilaginous and can be used in an cold infusion for digestive inflammation and sore throats. And I’ve already mentioned that okra can help with blood sugar issues. 

If you have the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook you know that blended okra is used in quite a few recipes, even brownies. I like to use okra in my canned stew as a thickener and because I usually can stew after our green beans have finished producing.

The okra seeds can be dried, roasted, and ground to make a non-caffeinated coffee substitute.

If you end up with more overgrown okra than you need for coffee or seed saving you can make some cute Santa ornaments with them.

photo of growing okra
Do you grow okra? What are some of your growing okra tips?

Thanks for sharing with your friends!

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